Comey applauds Trump's appointment of Bill Barr -- who thought firing him was the right decision

“I know of no former senior Justice Department official — Democrat or Republican — who does not view Comey’s conduct in July [2016] to have been a grave usurpation of authority,” wrote Barr in an op-ed for WaPo last year, three days after Trump dropped the axe. He complimented Comey in the same piece, calling him “an extraordinarily gifted man who has contributed much during his many years of public service,” but in hindsight that op-ed was probably a key factor in convincing Trump he could trust him as AG. It’s strange watching Comey lavish praise on a man who defended the most controversial personnel decision of Trump’s presidency, one which many think amounted to obstruction of justice.

But then, like I said yesterday, the amount of respect Barr enjoys from official Washington has made the reaction to his nomination strange all over. Trump obviously thinks Barr will be “loyal” or else he wouldn’t have nominated him; Trump critics like George Conway and Benjamin Wittes, meanwhile, think Barr is a by-the-book administrator who’d never tolerate political interference by the White House, no matter how broad his views are of the president’s authority under Article II. Someone will be wrong. But in the meantime, legal eagles across the spectrum are cheering the nomination. Trump-friendly former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy:

Barr and Mueller had a fine working relationship [when both were at the DOJ under Bush 41]. That will come in handy because, once Barr is confirmed, Mueller will again be reporting to him. The two men respect each other and know what to expect from each other. Mueller knows that Barr understands that investigations must be insulated from politics. In fact, when the now-lapsed independent-counsel law was in effect, Barr appointed one in 1992 to investigate the Bush administration’s scrutiny of then-candidate Bill Clinton’s passport file.

Still, Mueller also knows Barr will expect prosecutors to grasp that their authority is limited to deciding whether there is sufficient evidence to charge crimes. It is for Congress and the voters, not prosecutors, to go beyond questions of guilt or innocence, to make political assessments of a president’s fitness or judgment. I believe that, where Mueller has real evidence of a crime, Barr will be his strongest prosecutorial ally; and where Mueller lacks evidence, Barr will expect him to close the case the way prosecutors close cases — without fanfare.

Anti-Trump former federal prosecutor (and Democrat) Harry Litman:

I am very confident that Barr regards Mueller as a beacon of integrity and a prosecutor’s prosecutor.

That’s not to say he would agree with every investigative move that Mueller makes, and as attorney general, he could trim the special counsel’s wings. I would not be surprised if he regarded large independent counsel investigations, including this one, with some concern.

But there is no doubt that if he were to do so, it would be through direct, respectful discussion. And he has expressed support for the idea that the basic allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government are proper predicates for criminal investigation.

However Barr ends up handling Mueller and Russiagate, he’s immune from the charges of cronyism that would have greeted nearly any other AG Trump might have realistically nominated. Which means, if his views of Article II lead him to side with Trump in curtailing the probe somehow, it’ll be a political master stroke by POTUS. He’ll have gotten the end he desired through respectable institutional means. He’s gambling by picking Barr, but he stands to win big potentially.

As for the occasion for the mini-press-conference below, it happened shortly after Comey’s closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee wrapped up. He wanted the hearing held publicly; House Republicans refused. Both sides were pissy afterward, with Republicans grumbling that DOJ lawyers in attendance prevented Comey from answering questions related to when exactly the FBI began looking into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

He’ll be back the week after next to continue his testimony. As for his praise of Barr notwithstanding Barr’s criticism of him, I think Comey relishes the opportunity to do that. He’s always tried to present himself, a la Barr, as a by-the-book lawman whose criticism of Trump isn’t personal or partisan. He stands for truth and norms, he’ll eagerly remind you, not petty grudges. Applauding Barr despite Barr’s defense of his firing is his way of showing that he’s happy to give credit where it’s due even to an adversary. It’s not criticism he objects to, it’s Trump’s approach to the DOJ.